Last year, a new website called The Free Telegraph launched, offering visitors Republican-friendly online news. What visitors probably didn't realize was the online venture didn't just look like partisan propaganda; it was quite literally partisan propaganda: the site was the creation of the Republican Governors Association.
When the Associated Press inquired about this, the RGA added a disclosure notice about who was paying for the content -- the notice was put in a small, gray font, at the bottom of the page, against a gray background -- though the Republicans responsible for the site have since removed that language. Those who visit the outlet, designed to look like an online news website, have no way of knowing that the stories are paid Republican content.
There's a lot of this going around. For example, the Maine Examiner looks like a state-based news website, and purports to be a project of "a small group of Mainers who simply publish Maine news, trends, and interesting pieces about you, the people of Maine." Its critics have made a compelling case, however, that the site appears to be "working in conjunction with the state Republican Party."
According to a report in Politico, a leading House Republican appears to be playing the same game.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a relentless critic of the media, has found a way around the often unflattering coverage of his role in the Trump-Russia investigation -- by operating his own partisan news outlet.Resembling a local, conservative news site, "The California Republican" is classified on Facebook as a "media/news company" and claims to deliver "the best of US, California, and Central Valley news, sports, and analysis."
One recent item from the California Republican's Twitter feed featured a photograph of Nunes beneath text that read, "This is what a hero looks like." How subtle.
Though the CaRepublican.com website now appears to be off-line, there was an easy-to-miss disclosure notice at the bottom of the home page -- in a small, gray font against a black background -- letting eagle-eyed visitors know that the site is "paid for by the Devin Nunes Campaign Committee."
Why should you care? Because when politicians and their campaign operations get into the propaganda business, no one benefits.
Circling back to a point we discussed in September, if Nunes and his team want to present an argument to the public -- by way of a press release, tweet, video, media appearance, press conference, etc. -- the public has an opportunity to take the information's partisan affiliation into consideration. When we know who's responsible for the argument, we can weigh Nunes' credibility and perspective when evaluating its merit.
Political propaganda is intended to influence the public's understanding of current events. People who visit CaRepublican.com -- and fail to notice the small disclosure notice at the bottom -- may see it as just a local news site. But the point of endeavors like these is to deceive: by creating a literal propaganda outlet that looks like news, and even describes itself as news, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is counting on the public not recognizing the difference between journalism and partisan agitprop.
If Nunes wants to change his career path and become a publisher, that's certainly his right. What the congressman isn't supposed to do is wear the politician and publisher hats simultaneously, using campaign funds to create an online outlet that pretends to be a source of news.
Devin Nunes has spent far too much of his time recently embarrassing himself to a stunning degree. His "memo" was a complete fiasco. He's been caught lying as part of his crusade against federal law enforcement. He's been the subject of an ethics probe. His dramatic antics last year, in which Nunes arranged to provide pointless information to the Trump administration that he'd received from the Trump administration, have been derided mercilessly, and for good reason.
But for some reason, Devin Nunes appears determined to do even more harm to what's left of his reputation. As we discussed on Friday in response to an unrelated debacle, he's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for goodness sakes. Nunes should want to be seen as a credible lawmaker, worthy of some modicum of respect. Instead, he's going out of his way to do the opposite.
Dear Mr. Chairman, you've fallen in a hole. Please try to stop digging.